- The book club members choose a book to read every month, ranging from memoirs, biographies, historical and fiction, thrillers and dystopia, political among others.
- They also pick a restaurant that serves delicious brunch or dinner.
Joanne Kuria, a policy and communication specialist at Amnesty International, loves books and good food. Four years ago, she found a way to combine the two, where reading and sampling food in different restaurants provide a pretext for stimulating talk.
She started Books and Beyond. The book club members choose a book to read every month, ranging from memoirs, biographies, historical and fiction, thrillers and dystopia, political among others. They also pick a restaurant that serves delicious brunch or dinner.
“Since 2017, our book review meetings have been pegged on exploring new restaurants in Nairobi. A brunch and books type of thing. But with Covid-19, we moved online,” says Corrie Kisilu, a communications and public relations practitioner and a member of the book club.
“It’s been years of deep-diving into different book genres, sampling amazing restaurants, and enjoying scintillating conversation with 12 women and men,” adds Joanne. So far, they have read about 40 books and sampled around 20 restaurants. Her most memorable read is ‘The Invention of Wings’ by Sue Monk Kidd and ‘Small Great Things’ by Jodi Picoult.
Despite the pandemic having quietened down the book conversations in the restaurants, Joanne is hopeful that they will resume soon. “We are hopeful that we will get back to visiting and supporting local restaurants,” she said.
Kuria Kamau, an economist at Stanbic Bank Kenya was drawn to the club for the books but was also looking for some interaction.
“The fact that everyone gets a turn to pick a book means that you read books that you ordinarily have no affinity for. The person picking the book would also suggest a restaurant to explore next, which made it even more fun,” he says. The book club, he says, has been an excellent way of ensuring that he reads at least one book a month.
“It’s also interesting to see how different people can have different interpretations and opinions on the same book. This makes the discussions lively and engaging, and you also get to pick up on things that you had missed when you read the book by yourself,” he says.
Kuria’s best book is ‘Cloud Atlas’ by David Mitchell, who acknowledged the club on Twitter. He also loved ‘The Fishermen’ by Chigozie Obioma, an African writer who could be the next Chinua Achebe after his first two books were nominated by the Booker Prize.
But for Zimbabwean journalist Nomaqhawe Ndlovu, she no longer resonates with the flipping through a beautifully written book, ordering a meal, and sharing it with people who appreciate both.
“I joined the club at the beginning but I had to return to Zimbabwe,” she says.
“When the group met in restaurants for book discussions, I couldn’t participate. But during the pandemic, I was able to join in as all discussions moved online. I got to ‘meet’ everyone for the first time and put faces to people I'd been dissecting books with over WhatsApp,” she says.
The book club not only supports the restaurants but also local bookstores.
“We try to hype these places on social media to encourage more people to read and support Kenyan bookstores and restaurants,” Corrie says.
She adds that the idea that Kenyans do not read much is not true.
With restrictions on movement, many people took to social media to talk about books and authors across the globe.
“The reading culture in Kenya is growing. There are many consumers of literature and even a growing population of authors,” she says.
Corrie’s most memorable books she had read at the club are ‘The Silent Patient’ by Alex Michaelides and Infidel: My Life by Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
For Ndlovu, being in a book club not only exposes one to new books but makes one comfortable being a bookworm.
“You can obsess over things like character development and plot twists with like-minded people in a fun and low-pressure way. I look forward to all the books we will read together in 2021,” she says.